Standards-Based Reforms

Nationally and in Ohio, we press for the full suite of standards-based reforms across the academic curriculum and throughout the K–12 system, including (but not limited to) careful implementation of the Common Core standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics as well as rigorous, aligned state assessments and forceful accountability mechanisms at every level.


Our many standards-based blog posts are listed below.

Fordham’s experts on standards-based reforms:

In August, the Ohio Department (ODE) of Education and the State Board of Education (SBOE) released their five-year strategic plan for education. It included ten strategies aimed at helping the state meet a questionable goal that doesn’t ask much of students or schools. One of these strategies called for identifying “robust and diverse ways to measure performance.” Take a look:

Ohio needs to address challenges related to a reliance on standardized assessments in academic content areas, especially in high-stakes situations. Students should have multiple ways to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. The State Board of Education recognizes this point and is examining the use of alternative tools as validated, reliable methods to assess knowledge. Such tools might include student portfolios, capstone projects, presentations, or performance-based assessments.

Less than a month later, state board members are already debating a draft proposal for a new set of graduation requirements that includes alternatives to assessments. Students would be able to choose how to demonstrate their competency in English, math, and other subjects from a laundry list of options. One of these options is a non-test-reliant pathway called a Culminating Student Experience (CSE).


Laura Slover and Bonnie Hain

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

Road map for student success

As Kate Gerson, CEO of UnboundED, recently said: “Adopting an aligned curriculum is the number one way to stop all the confusion and extra labor that is currently placed on teachers…Providing a road map that is comprehensive and coherent is game-changing.”

As former teachers, we agree. Back in our days in the classroom, we spent countless hours trying to create aligned curriculum, often without that road map. This included finding lessons, searching for quality grade level texts, and building assessments to track student learning—time that could have been better spent with students and with other teachers. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Data show that teachers still spend considerable time trying to find/develop content for their students and to create what is essentially their own curriculum—only now they do it online instead of in the teachers’ lounge.

For example, RAND’s 2017 analysis of the American Teacher Panel found that 96 percent of teachers use Google to find lessons and materials, while nearly 75 percent use Pinterest. What’s more, in schools...

Stephanie Hirsh

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

There is no doubt that the quality of instructional materials makes a real difference in schools and classrooms (see a great roundup of recent studies in Ashley Berner’s recent blog post here). We know we are unlikely to achieve the real power of those materials—and their potential to help educators serve all students—until we invest in building the capacity of educators to understand and implement those materials with integrity.

Learning Forward’s recent whitepaper, High-quality curricula and team-based professional learning: A perfect partnership for equity, explores how team-based inquiry cycles offer teachers meaningful, frequent opportunities to dive deep into the academic content of the materials they use with students along with the resources and context essential to supporting such learning.

We have long advocated for job-embedded collaborative professional learning for educators, as outlined in the Standards for Professional Learning. Policy at the national level in the U.S. offers an exciting lever for advancing effective professional learning with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which includes a definition of professional learning aligned with these standards. The definition states that professional development is...

Barbara Davidson

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting a group of schools across the country distinguished by their embrace of high-quality curriculum. The tour was sponsored by the Knowledge Matters Campaign, which seeks to lift up the stories of schools that use knowledge-rich English language arts curriculum to promote educational excellence, provide equity, and inspire in students a passion for learning.

The campaign is particularly interested in drawing attention to schools and curricula that bring a joyous, knowledge-filled schooling experience to students of poverty, as they have been the ones particularly harmed by a skills-based approach that is arguably one of the most significant factors in reading scores remaining flat over the past twenty years (see this article published by the Campaign last month), to say nothing of driving out a love of learning in our young people.

Most of the schools we visited on the tour had adopted a curriculum highly rated by EdReports, the independent non-profit organization that, for the past four years, has served as something of a Consumer Reports on Common Core-aligned curriculum. Three key instructional shifts:...

Ashley Berner

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

American policymakers haven’t usually viewed the curriculum as a serious lever for change. This is unfortunate, since a growing body of research suggests that a high-quality curriculum, implemented with fidelity, can make a huge difference in student learning. In 2017, StandardsWork commissioned the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and its Center for Research and Reform in Education to undertake an extensive review of research on the curriculum effect, and what we found about a high-quality curriculum is compelling and persuasive (see here for a summary of the findings).

A few examples from the research record include:

  • High-quality textbooks. Numerous, recent studies (links here, here, here, and here) suggest that switching from a low- to a high-quality textbook can boost student achievement more than other, more popular interventions such as expanding preschool programs, decreasing class sizes, or offering merit pay to teachers. It is also cost effective. One study by Harvard’s Thomas Kane found that the effect upon student test scores of a high-quality math textbook as opposed to an average-quality textbook amounted to an extra eight
  • ...
Van Schoales

“Choice, first and foremost, should be about having a great school in your neighborhood and making sure all of our schools serve all of our kids.”—Tom Boasberg, NPR Ed, 2017

I’ve been an active observer of Denver Public Schools (DPS) for twenty years, through the vantage point of consultant, funder, researcher, charter school operator, critic, and advocate. When I met Tom Boasberg in his role as DPS’s chief operating officer, my first impression was that he was a thoughtful urban education newbie both committed to improving the quality of public education and skeptical of the notion of “one best district system.”

Under his tenure over the past decade, Denver Public Schools has had a remarkable trajectory. He has shepherded a long list of reforms that have elevated DPS from one of the worst large urban school systems to now having academic performance levels on par with Colorado’s average scores. High school graduation, college admittance, and school enrollment have dramatically grown under his leadership.

Through the years he established himself as a thoughtful technocrat—someone far more interesting in person than his khakis, blue button-downs, and Timex runner watches would suggest. He commutes thirty miles each day from...


Over the past two years, Fordham has been an outspoken critic of some of the efforts to modify Ohio’s graduation requirements. It’s not that we think the current graduation requirements are perfect. Heck, we’ve even offered a variety of ideas to modify the current framework. It’s that the “solutions” being offered create pathways where students can receive diplomas without any objective demonstration of academic competency. To us, this is a problem and ignores the very real reason that graduation requirements were made more rigorous in the first place. Namely, too few students have been graduating from high school with the skills to either go to college or enter the workforce.

In early May, the Akron Beacon Journal wrote an important story detailing how the modified graduation requirements for the class of 2018 (students who can’t pass state assessments or earn industry credentials can receive a diploma by completing two of nine other pathways) are playing out in Akron. This is the first large school district where we could see the impact of the modified graduation requirements.

The data raised many concerns for me, and I wrote an op-ed that was published on May 17 in the Beacon Journal....

Matthew A. Kraft

Nine years, $575 million dollars, and 500-plus pages later, what have we learned about the Gates Foundation’s ambitious efforts to improve teacher effectiveness through evaluation and human capital reforms? The headlines about the RAND Corporation’s recently released final report have focused on the lack of any consistent effects on student outcomes, but the real story here is the many insights about implementation—what actually happened on the ground—based on rich qualitative and survey data. Here are some of my key takeaways from the report.

The study evaluated the Gates’s Intensive Partnership initiative with three school districts and four charter management organizations, which lasted from 2009 to 2015 and provided $575 million in total funding ($800–$3,500 per pupil). In exchange, participating districts/CMOs committed to implementing major reforms to their teacher recruitment, screening, evaluation, and compensation systems.

In many ways this initiative should be viewed as a proof of concept. The participating districts/CMOs were specifically selected because of their strong commitment to the reforms, and they had unprecedented financial support. Their efforts provide a rare window into whether evaluation and human capital reforms work under very favorable circumstances—a truer test of the reforms themselves.

Despite the strong initial buy-in and generous funding,...

Alex Hernandez

Some of us were in the mode, ‘Fix it, fix it! Fix it tomorrow!’ You know when you feel nauseated and you just want it to stop. Our Chief Academic Officer, Tracy Epp, did a good job of slowing us down and saying, ‘I’m not going to take forever, but this is important enough that we are going to take a few months to figure this out. And we are going to bring our team together to generate all kinds of ideas and then we’re going to make our bets.’ And I think she slowed us down and brought more people on board to try to get the bets right.

—Dacia Toll, co-CEO of Achievement First

Achievement First’s deep dive into its academic programs led to the following conclusions:

Key lessons learned

  • Picture of instruction: Our instruction was overly-scaffolded for students. We needed to focus more on student thinking. Students needed to do more heavy lifting and struggle more.
  • Curriculum: Curriculum matters—a lot. It needs to be unapologetically rigorous. You need to buy best-in-class resources or have a robust process for internal and external vetting of what you create.
  • Adult learning: Student thinking will only be as good
  • ...

Achievement gaps between poor and minority students and their peers are well documented and persistent. For years, data indicate that these students have generally been making slow but steady progress. But now results from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) cast doubt on whether they remain on an upward trajectory. Nationally, the most recent trends have been flat to downwards for both black and Hispanic students, as well as for those in the bottom 10 percent in achievement.

Does Ohio follow the national trends? In this post, we’ll take a look at the NAEP data for Ohio’s low-income pupils and black students. Though not discussed here, average achievement among Hispanic students also lags behind their peers (their NAEP performance can be seen here). In contrast to Ohio’s state tests, which have changed in recent years, NAEP’s math and reading exams have remained largely consistent and provide a big-picture sense of the direction achievement is moving in Ohio. Keep in mind that NAEP takes “snapshots” of different students every two years; hence, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about what’s causing changes seen in the data. The shift to tablet assessments in 2017 may...